Are you staring down five or six figures of debt? You’re not alone. People in the United States have amassed a total of $712 billion in credit card debt, $1.03 trillion in auto loans, and $1.21 trillion in student loans, according to personal finance website NerdWallet. The average household with credit card debt is carrying a balance of more than $15,000. Households with auto loans owe about $26,500, on average.
Not only is massive debt bad for your financial life, but it can also wreak havoc on your mental health. People who have short-term debt, like credit cards and overdue bills, are more likely to have symptoms of depression, one study found. Huge debt loads can also increase your stress levels and may even contribute to higher blood pressure, according to researchers at Northwestern University.
The easiest way to relieve debt-related stress and anxiety would be to wave a magic wand and make it all go away. Unfortunately, unless you’re lucky enough to receive a windfall, eliminating debt is likely to be a long, hard slog. Depending on how much you owe, payoff periods can stretch into decades, and staying motivated as you chip away at those balances is hard.
Feeling discouraged when paying off your debt is normal, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs. There are a variety of strategies you can use to stay positive on your journey to a debt-free life. Just take it from these five personal finance bloggers, who each had their own way to stay positive and motivated when paying off their debt.
1. Know your daily interest rate
Do you know how much the interest on your debt is costing you every day? Melanie Lockert at Go Girl Finance looked at how much of her monthly debt payments were going to interest (as opposed to paying down her principal), and then divided that number by 30 to figure out how much she was paying on a daily basis.
“At the height of my debt, my daily interest rate was roughly $11. … Realizing that my daily interest rate was more than I usually spent each day was a rude awakening. I knew that I owed a lot of money, but didn’t really process what was being thrown away each month.”
Knowing how much interest was costing each day was a powerful motivator to pay off debt and avoid spending too much, Lockert explained in a blog post.
“My daily interest rate is now around $6, which is still pretty high, but much lower than $11. Knowing that even with my no-spend days, I am still paying $6 a day toward debt, motivates me to limit my spending.”
2. Make extra payments when you can
You’re probably already paying as much on your debt as your budget will allow. But you can give yourself an extra boost and shorten your payoff period by throwing extra money (like unexpected refunds or gifts) at your loans when you can. Hayley, who blogs at Disease Called Debt, and her husband made a point of taking any extra funds and applying them to their debt.
“Every time we get some spare cash, whether it be £30 or £300, we’ve been making over-payments on our credit card … The feeling is just brilliant when making these extra payments!!! Even though we’ve got such a long way to go, we can breathe a little bit easier each time.”
3. Don’t deprive yourself too much
When you have a lot of debt, it’s tempting to cut out all extras and dedicate every spare cent to reducing your balance. Such a strategy may work for some, but denying yourself all of life’s little pleasures can lead to burnout. For Melody Robinson Wright of Broke on Purpose, a monthly allowance was a way to indulge in her desire to spend in a financially responsible way.
“My husband and I both get a monthly allowance. This is something we’ve worked into our budget … By working an allowance into our budget every single month, we can scratch that itch to go shopping if we want. I find that now that we’ve been getting an allowance consistently we don’t even spend what we have. Usually opting to save it for a bigger item or a bigger shopping trip.”
4. Don’t compare yourself to other people
To stay positive when paying off debt, focus on yourself and your goals, not what your friends and relatives seem to be achieving. Beating yourself up because everyone around you appears well off and successful is easy, but Jen Hayes of Frugal Millennial suggests fighting the urge to measure your success against others, especially since it’s hard to judge what’s really going on with another person’s finances. As she wrote in a post for Millennial Money Man:
“Every day when I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I see my peers purchasing their first homes, buying new cars, having babies, and traveling the world. It’s easy to feel envious and to wonder how they can possibly be affording it. Many of them may be financing their lives with credit card debt. Others may be extending their student loan payments to 25 years and trapping themselves in debt for many years to come. I could do the same, but it certainly wouldn’t be worth it to me. I am ‘missing out’ on these major life events now, but it will absolutely be worth it when I’m debt free in just a few short years.”
5. Dream big
Keep your spirits up while paying off debt by thinking about all the things you’ll be able to do once you no longer have student loans or credit card bills hanging over your head. Knowing you’ll be able to buy a house, quit your terrible job, or start a family once you’re free of debt can be a powerful motivator. For Lauren Bowling, who blogs at L Bee and the Money Tree, thoughts of what she’d eventually be able to achieve in her career were a big comfort as she chipped away at her debt.
“I started to allow myself to feel hopeful in addition to feeling incredibly determined. … My favorite thing to think about? What my life is going to be like after I finish paying off my debt. One of the biggest things I thought about was what I’d be able to accomplish in my career if I didn’t have to make minimum payments or worry about paying all that money back. So I visualized about working for myself, having more time to devote to my blog, and living a location independent lifestyle became my favorite fantasy.”